June 7 – STP Made Critics Red In The Face. Or Maybe ‘Purple’

It was a good day for sneering critics in 1994…but so too was it a good day for southern California’s Stone Temple Pilots, who put out their second album, often referred to as Purple, that day. And boy how many in the music media loved to hate them!

It came about two years after their debut, which had sold well but earned scathing reviews. Some merely hated the grungey sound to begin with, but many thought they were deliberate rip-offs of Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains. For Purple, they decided to answer back the critics…a little. They expanded their sound a bit and incorporated more elements drawn from the Blues or pop than before. As bassist (and perhaps main songwriter) Robert DeLeo said then, “how could you not be personally offended or hurt by someone dissing what’s so personal to you?” They did keep one thing in common with the first record, bringing back producer Brendan O’Brien who always seemed to be able to inject a little lightness and “pop” into the darkest of sounds.

Robert and brother Dean DeLeo (the guitarist) began working on the ten brand new songs late in ’93, sometimes with singer Scott Weiland’s input. Two songs were done earlier; “Big Empty” was a song they did early in ’93 on their MTV Unplugged show and just revamped for use in The Crow soundtrack; “Lounge Fly” had been recorded in summer ’93 during a stop at Prince’s Minnesota Paisley Park studio.

The album contained some of the decade’s more memorable Alt Rock tunes, including “Big Empty,” “Vasoline” and especially “Interstate Love Song”, a song which at worst stood toe-to-toe with the best of Nirvana’s output in creating a memorable, catchy radio-friendly riff. So much so in fact that it spent 15 weeks at #1 on Billboard‘s Mainstream Rock chart, an all-time record then, outdoing “Start Me Up” by a band many had heard of called the Rolling Stones which had been the previous record-holder in that department for over a decade!

Fans loved it, even if they were a tad confused over what to call it. The cover, with the fat baby riding a flying dragon, only had their band name on it and the LP and cassettes simply said “Stone Temple Pilots” on the spine. However, in front of the dragon there was a Chinese character which apparently was “purple”, and with many of the LPS being pressed on purple vinyl, it generally came to be referred to as that. Call it “Stone Temple Pilots “ or call it “Purple,” you could call it hard to find at record stores that June. It debuted at #1 on the American charts, selling past a quarter million copies in the first week. It would be their only #1 in the U.S., and also topped Aussie charts, while reaching #2 in Canada and #10 in the UK, not a bad mark for a country which didn’t embrace the loud depression-and-flannel sound like North America did. It’s currently 6X platinum at home, their most lofty sales total to date.

So, critics probably said “yes! This is a West Coast album we can get behind! These guys are better than we thought.” Right? Well, no. Critics still seemed determined to pan them and call them cheap imitations, even if they couldn’t agree on whether they were imitating Pearl Jam or Led Zeppelin. Entertainment Weekly graded it “B-” , grudgingly admitting “they pull off these copycat melodies with supreme skill,” but saying it might as well be an “alt rock tribute album”, comparing “Unglued” to Soundgarden, “Interstate Love Song” to a “more polite version” of Pearl Jam’s “Daughter” (it takes some sort of special ear to hear that comparison, we think), and “Silvergun Superman” to “REM if they still made arena-ready albums.” Grumpy Robert Christgau at the Village Voice merely gave it a “bomb” symbol as a grade while Rolling Stone were mixed, giving it 3-stars. They declared that Weiland did indeed sound like Eddie Vedder but “probably because both vocalists lift from the same ’70s rock groups” and at least noticing there was “nothing grungey at all about Stone Temple Pilot’s palatable suburban riffs.” Time though seems to have been a friend to Purple. Quite a few retroactive reviews consider it one of the genre’s better efforts; allmusic for example rate it 4-stars. They figured it to be a “quantum leap over their debut, showcasing a band hitting its stride,” describing the music as “heavily melodic and slightly psychedelic” and summing it up by noting “mainstream hard rock didn’t get any better “than “Interestate Love Song” or “Big Empty” in the ’90s.

Stone Temple Pilots would continue to diversify their sound, and annoy critics, with their follow-up, Tiny Music.

7 thoughts on “June 7 – STP Made Critics Red In The Face. Or Maybe ‘Purple’

  1. Badfinger (Max)

    I never considered them grunge…I liked Weiland…he was a top-notch vocalist. His vocals were the reason I started to listen to them…I got into them later…with No. 4

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had this CD though I don’t remember listening to it a whole lot except ‘Interstate…’ . I really loved their next one, and had #4 too. You’re right about Weiland, great voice and showmanship and after they came back without him, they really didn’t ‘have’ it anymore, in my opinion.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Badfinger (Max)

        Didn’t he also sing in that band with Slash? Oh….Velvet Revolver? He was a big loss…I mean I was never a giant fan of them…but I was of him.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great band and I was fortunate enough to see STP open for the Stones on there Voodoo Lounge Tour in Toronto when Purple had just come out. Great show by both bands. Weiland was a great talent and the other three brought the musical muscle and they were a great band

    Liked by 1 person

    1. that would have been a good show I would guess! Yeah, I liked them quite a bit back then… they and the Foo Fighters really appealed to me more than the real hardcore ‘grunge’ acts.

      Liked by 1 person

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